Some things in life are a necessary indulgence. Shinji by Kanesaka (of famed two-Michelin starred chef Shinji Kanesaka) which exemplifies the best of Edomae-style sushi, essentially falls into this category. In particular, when one is bestowed the privilege of having Master Chef Koichiro Oshino cut for you. The evening was made even more special as some friends brought along some rare wine gems for us to pair with the sushi.
Anyone who has spent some time in Japan knows how seriously obsessed the Japanese are with the freshness and quality of their seafood. The omakase at Shinji is consistently exquisite, with their excellent selection of fish directly sourced from the famed Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. Chef Oshino explained how each different type of fish (we feasted on a dozen or more varieties) was served at a different temperature in order to accentuate the texture and flavors of each particular fish. I truly love sushi. If it was my last day on earth and I had to choose a chef to prepare a last meal for me, I would not hesitate to humbly ask Oshino-san if he would do the honours. To me, he is that good.
What made this evening extra special were three wines in particular.
Without any intended exaggeration, the Asteroide wine from the legendary domaine of Didier Dagueneau is among the rarest of fine wines available in the world. So rare that chances are, if you ask most wine merchants and distributors they will tell you they have never heard of it. But for wine geeks like me, it was like having a chance to take a sip from the Holy Grail. It has only been produced three or four times in the last decade from a small plot (ten rows) of ungrafted Sauvignon Blanc vines that are very fragile and require constant supervision.
We were fortunate to try the 2008 vintage, and it was a masterpiece of complexity with an incredibly harmonious balance and an almost impossibly long finish. For those who don’t think Sauvignon Blanc can be complex, well, this wine will reverse that impression.
Another rarity on the table was the 2004 Domaine d’Auvenay Chevalier Montrachet. This is among the classiest white Burgundies I have ever had the privilege to imbibe. This elixir delicately stained my palate with lemon zest, limestone and pears. This is Madame Lalon Bize-Leroy’s own private estate and her vineyards are all biodynamic. The vineyards may be a minuscule 0.16 hectares so there is not much wine produced, but everything offered from this vineyard is indisputably brilliant.
The Tondonia vineyard is widely considered one of Spain’s “Grand Cru” vineyards for its red whites but there is a tiny space allocated for the local white varietals of Viura and Malvasia, both of which are capable of long-aging beautifully as this 1957 bottle neatly elucidates. The bouquet alone left me wanting to stand up and twirl around in delight. Hints of honey, oranges, oxidation and herbal notes with a waxy texture. A rich, dense and vibrant wine that was a perfect pairing with the mantis shrimp.
The mantis shrimp was one of the food highlights of the evening. Mantis shrimp is one of the key original Edomae-style sushi ingredients. The mantis shrimp has to be poached immediately after it is caught, since it starts to literally digest its own body once it is fished out of the water. The meat is sweet with a deep flavour. Don’t miss this delicacy when it’s in season from Spring to early Summer.
While most sushi lovers consider otoro (the fattiest portion of the tuna, from the underside of the fish) the most desired part of the tuna belly, I actually find its high fat content distracting. I find a high-grade piece of wagyu distracting in a similar way. Too much fat, not enough meat! Usually, I prefer chutoro, which is is the belly area of the tuna along the side of the fish between the akami (the leaner flesh of tuna from the sides of the fish) and the otoro. I prefer this cut because I still get to fully taste the freshness of the tuna along with the succulence of the fat.
Can one have a pleasurable experience with wine and sushi/sashimi? Absolutely. There is a pretty wide spectrum of wine choices that work beautifully. Keep the textures and tannins light and you will have abundant choices. Beaujolais, Red and White Burgundy, Sancerre, Off-Dry Alsace and German Rieslings go nicely with certain types of sushi. Champagne works particularly well with white fish.
Of course, no meal at Shinji is complete without a cholesterol bomb. It’s a long running joke I have with Chef Oshino, where at the end of the meal, he creates a bowl of hedonistic pleasure which we call the cholesterol bomb. A mixture of uni (sea urchin) rice topped with ikura (salmon roe) and blue fin toro (tuna belly). A rich and decadent way indeed to end a magnificent evening of necessary indulgences.
Shinji by Kanesaka
#02-20 Raffles Hotel
1 Beach Road
Tel. +65 6338 6131
Monday-Saturday 12-3pm, 6pm-1030pm
Closed on Sundays